Robert Perea, The Fernley Reporter
One of the benefits Fernley coaches tout about their flexbone offense is that it’s so dissimilar from what other teams in the Northern 3A run, that it forces opponents to do things differently on defense than they’re used to.
But in last Thursday’s loss to Wooster, the Vaqueros ran into the downside of that conundrum, and it’s one they’re likely to face again Friday.
Outside of one short drive in the second half, Wooster kept the Vaqueros offense in check, and did just enough itself offensively to take a 17-7 win over the Vaqueros in Fernley’s first game on their home field this season.
“They just wanted it a little bit more,” coach Anfernee Sloan said. “You could see it from the start of the game.”
The Vaqueros are now 2-3 overall, having gone 2-1 in crossover games against Northern 3A West Division foes. They open East Division play Friday at Spring Creek, which comes in at 3-1, all against Northern 3A West Division opponents. Spring Creek is coming off a 41-24 loss at Truckee last Saturday.
“The next four weeks are big games,” Sloan said. “Those are four big weeks for us and those are four teams that are going to be well-coached like tonight and they’re going to be ready.”
The next four weeks will determine whether the Vaqueros continue their streak of 11 consecutive playoff appearances, with games against Elko, Lowry and Fallon following Spring Creek. With Dayton having dropped its varsity team for the rest of the season, it’s still undetermined whether Fernley will be able to add a game to the schedule in the final week of the season.
Sloan said Wooster caught the Vaqueros off guard by playing a different alignment defensively than they had shown in their first three games.
“Exactly nothing what we saw on film, so that was a little bit of a shock to us, but the same time, this is the first week something like this has happened to them,” Sloan said.
Spring Creek is another team that has typically played different defensive fronts against Fernley than it normally plays. That forces the Vaqueros’ linemen to recognize their blocking assignments on the fly. How well they make that adjustment this week could determine whether they’re able to open league play with a win.
“I kept telling them you got to be ready to adjust and be ready for that kind of stuff,” he said. “It’s a big learning moment for these guys.”
Offensively, Wooster leaned on running back Ivan Strunk, who accounted for 130 of his team’s 205 total yards. Strunk ran the ball on nine of Wooster’s 12 plays on its opening drive, including a 4-yard touchdown that put the Colts up 7-0.
Fernley, meanwhile, managed just four yards on each of its first three drives, and trailed 14-0 after a touchdown pass from Carlos Lopez to Dominick Espinosa.
The Vaqueros lone score came later in the third quarter on a 23-yard pass from Gabe Tollestrup to Garrett Harjo, after a bad punt gave them the ball at the Wooster 38.
That was Fernley’s only time crossing midfield, until the final minute of the game.
After trailing 14-0 at the half, the Vaqueros outscored Wooster 7-3 in the second half, and they’ve now outscored all five of their opponents in the second half. But in all three of their losses, they’ve trailed by double digits in the first half.
“I think our kids started a little bit too slow, which again we can’t have,” Sloan said. “it’s nice to see them come back in the second half and continue to fight. I think that’s a big thing that we do really, really well, but I need them to play a little bit faster in the first.”